dimanche 20 septembre 2009

My life as a frog elevator

Transformation complete, the tadpoles are frogs

I am so, so far behind. How to catch up, and where to begin? There is so much I haven't told in the ongoing saga with our building company, like the day I finally ranted against Georges as he followed me around the garden, and then sat, waiting patiently like Godot for me to finally come and join him.

"Madame Sisyphe, venez vous asseoir avec moi pour qu'on puisse discuter calmement."

"Non, Georges," I replied, calmement, "je ne vais pas venir m'asseoir à côté de vous car j'ai fini de marchander avec vous. Vous n'aurez pas d'autre réponse cet après-midi." After my statement that I wasn't going to come and sit with him to do any more dealing, I found him in front of me, kneeling. Had I not been so exasperated, I might have laughed so much he looked the perfect image of a gitan in the Paris métro (except they are women). As it was, it was infuriating. He sat back on his heels and finally down on the grass.

He hadn't given up.

Yesterday, he came to install the grill and the gate at the street, and Audouin said, "Il nous a demandé un avancé." An advance? That wasn't what the lawyer ordered.

"Ah bon? Combien?" How much? Georges smiled his usual grin -- somewhere between sheepish and guilty --, but it was my husband who replied.

"Il va nous le montrer juste avant de se casser, je pense." Meaning, my husband had figured it out; he wasn't saying. He'd present it to us just before getting the hell out of here, knowing the merde was going to hit the rotating blades as soon as I laid eyes on it. I went up to bed in the middle of the afternoon on a perfectly nice Saturday in September.

What else is there to do when you're going to have a nervous depression?

I wasn't asleep when I heard him giving the bill to my husband. I wasn't asleep when I heard my husband call me so Georges could say good-bye. I did us all a favor and played possum in my bed, the recently reinstalled shutters closed where the window still wasn't installed, shutting out the daylight and all activity outdoors. Almost. I could still hear them.

But why he was so secretive and coy about an advance as beyond me, unless he really felt badly asking for it when we had been very clear: no payment until all work completed. Because, it wasn't an advance at all, it was a bill for extras, an avenant. Georges had had a failure of mastery of the French language. An avenant refers to the terms by which a contract is changed, notably in the favor of the person to whom payment is due.

The paper was sitting on the dining table when I came down, Audouin out working on his balcony guardrail.

"Oh non! Non, non, non, non, non," I said.

"Je pensais que tu dirais ça," he said. That helped. I could accept that much humor and appreciated the inkling of solidarity it implied.

They were asking a few hundred euros here for the removal of the earth for the slab for the entry court paving, an evident part of paving an entry court.

They were asking a few hundred euros there to remove a tree that had always been slated for removal, as soon as my husband got over it and let them do it.

They were asking a few hundred euros to bury the pipes and electrical cables they knew ran under the dirt and would have to go under the slab.

They wanted many several hundred euros for the brick I told them to cancel for a wall when they told us how much they wanted to install it, telling me only the other day that he hadn't canceled it because it was already ordered at the time. But, not delivered. Key point. When I learned that on Thursday, I said, "You know my husband said no when he heard the price, 2,000 euros."

"Non, non, Madame Sisyphe," said Georges, indicating by the angle of inclination of his head and a movement of the shoulders that they were going to charge us pretty much the cost of the brick.

"Mon mari va péter un cable," I told him. Péter un cable means "lose it" in French. Georges found that amusing somehow.

Then, there was the many several hundred euros for the "complicated" brick work for the pillars.

Tonight, we have to decide what we are going to agree to pay, and what we are refusing. Basically 50%: everything having to do with the brick. Everything else is refused in my court.

Meanwhile, while I am sitting at the table working out the paving patterns, people are driving by and commenting on the house. On Friday, Georges told me that a car registered in the neighboring and wealthy département, l'Eure, pulled up alongside them. The man slid down his window and said that our house was beautiful, "exactement ce que je veux pour chez moi." He asked for their card, which Georges produced.

I realized in that second that I should have a sign on the house, naming myself as the architect and giving my contact information, as well as their company information.

"Georges, et s'il vous appelle, vous lui direz, certainement, qui est l'architecte?"

"Bien sur, Madame Sisyphe." Bien sur mon eye. As though he'd go out of his way to give credit where credit is certainement due. If they get business from this house, why is that? Hm? They have gone along kicking and screaming, trying to cut every corner and ruin the project with mass market crap windows and brick pillars and trying to wiggle out of everything they can, while I hold them to it and pay.

Like Friday, "Georges, vous allez faire l'ochre, oui?" They darkened the half-timber motifs and put the patina away without touching the ocre yellow walls that are too light.

"Oui, oui. On ne va pas se sauver sans les faires, mais, voulez ça ici," he pointed to the east façade next to which we were standing, "jusqu'en haut?" Was he crazy? He was asking if I wanted them to darken the ocre all the way to the top of the wall.

No, just do half of it, Georges.

I nodded, "Bien sur jusqu'en haut, et les trois façades de la partie plus récente aussi," comme vous le savez.

"Jusqu'en haut aussi?" How stupid is he, or how stupid does he think I am?

Don't answer. I prefer not to know, and I haven't even touched upon the disagreement between my life's partner and I about the extent of the brick paving on the garden side of the house. Reason number two why I have taken to my bed in a nervous depression.

But, the real news of the day is that the tadpoles have succeeded in their development to frog.

The past few days, I have seen nothing of them. Where did they go? To the bottom of the basin, down in the muck? Is this what they do when they get to the front leg stage and lose their tails? Why can't I see it like I got to see the rear legs sprout?

That's nature. You don't get to. Sorry.

This morning Audouin finally asked if I had seen the tadpoles recently. I hadn't. I shared my idea that maybe they do to the bottom of the pond (or whatever) to sprout their front legs and lose their tails. He nodded and wandered back to his balcony rail.

This afternoon, late in the day, something made me kneel down on the side of the basin by the reeds and peer into the Santa Barbara daisies. Something moved. It jumped. It definitely jumped. It was -- a tiny, baby, fully developed frog.

"Audouin, ca il y est! Les tétards sont devenus des grenouilles, et -- oh! Il y a encore des autres!" He came hurrying over to see what I had found. One, two, three -- five, six... baby frogs. We started trying to catch them to help them back into the basin before they became hors d'oeuvres for the animals, although I think they are poisonous for the cats and the dogs, and that the cats and the dogs know this.

Once my eyes got used to seeing them in the aquatic plants in the basin, I could see them everywhere. Seven, eight, nine, twelve! Thirteen -- I stopped counting and just took baby pictures for their album.

Three months from when we first saw the tiny, newly hatched tadpoles on June 24, they had done what they were supposed to do in that time and had become frogs.

I felt a surge of pride that the basin, which we had completely emptied to repair in April, had been capable of not only sustaining life but of allowing new life for both the fish and the frogs in a single season.

My life has new meaning, as I now have to worry about finding them in the plants around the basin and helping them get back in to survive.

I saw one that didn't make it. It's not nice what the sun does to them.

You can click on the album to go to Picasa and see it as a full screen slideshow. The little frogs are actually visible there.

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